'Save our warlord', neighbours plead

It is one of the more striking neighbourhood petitions to circulate recently. Residents of a quiet Gloucester suburb regarded Milo Bosnic, 54, as a charming, likeable man they were happy to invite round for a cup of tea.

But the peace of the terraced street was shaken last week when police moved in to arrest Mr Bosnic, a part-time gardener and odd-job man, after Croatia demanded his extradiction.

Far from being a peaceable neighbour, Mr Bosnic, the Croatians maintain, was a Serbian warlord who was responsible for the slaughter of civilians, torture and ethnic cleansing during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The allegations came as a complete shock to residents. "This is not what you expect around here at all," said Chris Talbot, who lives close to Mr Bosnic's small, end-of-terrace home.

Another neighbour, who preferred not to be named, described Mr Bosnic as a "genuine nice guy" and said he had become a close friend: "He spoke good English and is a funny and charming man who would come round and drink tea with us.

"He and his wife Rosa would often stop and chat and were both really nice people. He never really talked much about life in his homeland and, to be honest, we never really asked because you don't want to pry."

Mr Bosnic's daughter has started a petition calling for his release and several of his Gloucester neighbours have signed up believing he couldn't possibly have been responsible for such terrible crimes.

Croatia alleges he was a Serbian leader in 1991 and 1992 who ordered the deaths of civilans, expelled Croatians from Slunj and founded a prison where Croatians were tortured.

Melanie Cumberland, for the prosecution, told the City of Westminster magistrates court on Thursday: "Extradition is sought by the government of Croatia for the purposes of standing trial for offences of war crimes against the civilian population. He is wanted for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, torture, murder, false imprisonment and theft."

Mr Bosnic was remanded in custody until 29 April. An extradiction hearing has been provisionally set for 18 May.

Former Air Vice-Marshall Tony Mason, who visited the Balkans as an observer after the Croatian war of independence said: "I saw sufficient evidence to realise that on both sides there was some deeply unpleasant behaviour during the conflict. I understand that the feelings are still strong. I can see why people will be hunted down, even at this late stage."